Everyone knows who Stephen Hawking is, largely due his bestselling book “A Brief History of Time,” which made cosmology and quantum mechanics accessible to the masses. But how much do you know about his family life or the fact that his first wife Jane played such a pivotal role in making sure he was able to keep working on his ground-breaking theories even when struck by ALS?
Directed by James Marsh (Man on Fire), The Theory of Everything explores the relationship between Stephen and Jane Hawking, played by Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, from their first meeting at Cambridge and how their romance bloomed just as he was starting to suffer the physical deterioration of Lou Gehrig’s disease.
Without taking anything away from the physical transformation Redmayne went through to create a realistic version of Hawking, the film is actually based on Jane Hawking’s book, which is why Jones is just as important to why the film works so well.
Jones first impressed us with her role in Drake Doremus’ long-distance romance indie film Like Crazy a few years back and she was equally as memorable as Charles Dickens’ mistress/muse in Ralph Fiennes’ The Invisible Woman last year. Her performance as Jane Hawking is particularly memorable for how she’s depicted over the course of decades with such a strong resolve, often putting her own needs aside for those of Stephen and their kids. It’s certainly another great role for Jones and one of those performances that could easily be overlooked, much like Ms. Hawking herself, since Redmayne is playing the far more recognizable Hawking.
ComingSoon.net spoke to Ms. Jones way back in September at the Toronto International Film Festival but being that Thanksgiving is coming up and everyone will have more time to see movies, it seems like a good time to give those looking for something to see another reason to make the effort.
ComingSoon.net: This is an interesting story, because a lot of people going into it won’t realize that it’s based on Jane’s book and that it’s more about the relationship and the marriage and how she went through his struggle with him. Is that what appealed to you?
Felicity Jones: Yeah, absolutely. I liked that it wasn’t a straightforward biopic. I feel like we’ve seen a lot of biopics in the past and it was nice this had a different take on understanding a great figure, and that it was so much about the family live of Stephen and about his marriage. That definitely appealed. I don’t want to just do the normal underwritten wife role. That this was an exploration of Jane just as much as it was of Stephen was very appealing.
CS: You read about the movie and you think that’s going to be the case and while Jane isn’t as showy as Eddie’s performance as Stephen, it’s still a central focus and very important.
Jones: James (Marsh, director) said that from the very beginning. He wanted to show all of the characters, even Jonathan played by Charlie Cox, who is not in the film for very long. You get a really strong sense of his character and the complications of his character very quickly. I think that’s a testament to James as a filmmaker, that he doesn’t judge anyone or try to say one person’s story is more important than the other. They’re just different stories.
CS: When I spoke to James, he said that when he was reading the screenplay and Jonathan entered the picture, that’s where he was sold on doing the movie.
Jones: Well, I think that’s when the film becomes something different than what we’ve seen before, because you’re following both sides, and this is what’s interesting is that often with famous people, there’s someone in the background who is doing all the boring, laborious work, who is as significant but isn’t the person out front who is getting the fame. Stephen said it himself. The way Jane took him on and was undaunted by the disease was incredible, and it was very much a team effort.
CS: You were in Ralph Fiennes’ movie “The Invisible Woman,” but one big difference is that Jane is still alive, so did you meet her or did you speak to her on set?
Jones: Well, I read her book and after reading that, I was so intimidated about meeting her. I just thought, “This woman is incredible” that I should bow down to her with what she coped with. I went to her house in Cambridge. She lives in a very modest house with her husband, Jonathan—they’re now married—and she cooked very kindly and we had dinner and we talked about their relationship. Jane showed me slides, she had these old ‘60s slides of when they first met and when they were meeting each other and falling in love. I felt like I was suddenly being invited into this very intimate world. Obviously, seeing him being so famous, seeing that private side of him was what made my job fun. She brought clothes that she wore at the time and she was very hands-on, and very helpful and brave to let the world into his and their story.
CS: She’s also brave because sometimes when a husband or wife get sick, their spouse has to take care of them, but that’s usually after they’ve been married for a number of years.
Jones: That’s what makes the story very unusual, that it was so soon after they met. The disease had been a feature of their relationship, but what’s so extraordinary about both of them is that Stephen’s disease was never the focus. It was always about, “How can we deal with the disease so that Stephen can work?” It was all about trying to make their lives easier. For Stephen, it’s not the only interesting thing about him. He’s charismatic. And that’s all that we wanted to show in the film—the humor of these people. That’s where their strength comes from, that they can be in these difficult situations and then be laughing at how absurd everything is at the same time.
CS: Obviously, you can’t tell since he has a limited range, but he always seems to be happy because he always has that same smiling expression on his face.
Jones: Yeah, it’s common to his face, it’s very instant. He’s a very charming man. He’s got charisma, and that’s why Jane fell in love with him. It was love at first sight and there was something that really just hit in that moment.
CS: This may be a spoiler, but when you met with Jane, was she still friends with Professor Hawking and married to Jonathan?
Jones: They are, they are friends. They’ve reconciled. There was a time when it was very difficult just after the divorce, but Stephen made a documentary—and that’s how amazing he is, that he’s made a documentary—that has a lot of scenes that are in the film, and one of them was talking about Jane. He recognized what Jane had done and he didn’t actually know that she had saved his life when he had the tracheotomy in the scene when she said, “You can’t turn out the lights…” Stephen didn’t know about that for many years and finding out, he realized just how important Jane had been and thanked her. I think that meant a lot for their reconciliation. Now they are friends and you can’t be married for  years without having admiration and affection for someone. And with Jonathan as well. They live in the same town, they see each other on a regular basis. They all have a love for Cambridge. It’s almost like a character in some ways in the film.
CS: Both you and Eddie have what may be a blessing or a curse in that you both look a lot younger than you are so you can play younger versions of characters and need more make-up to make you look older. How does that work for a character like Jane where you do have to play her across decades.
Jones: Obviously, the demands are not as technical as what Eddie was doing. It was about showing how any of us age, and trying to show that in a subtle way, but our bodies do change. I went to a great movement coach from the Guildhall School of Drama in London, and we did a session where he was showing me… and it was almost like doing biology, how the body changes. Literally, the curve of your spine is inwards when you’re younger and you kick your bum out and as you get older—it’s rather depressing in a way…
CS: Believe me. I’m older. I know what happens.
Jones: You’re concave and you start going more hunched, and just knowing things like that. I know… suddenly, we both sit up straight. But knowing that helps you to show someone aging in quite a subtle way, in the way your gait changes as you’re walking. So Jane was quite light on her toes in the early stages and then as life wears you down, you get more heavy-footed.
CS: I’ve spoken with Keira Knightley a lot, but like her, you’ve been fairly effortlessly bouncing between period and contemporary movies. I guess you end up doing a lot of the former because that’s what BBC and Working Title tend to make…
Jones: Yeah, we love doing those. We’re just obsessed with the past!
CS: Do you feel more comfortable doing the contemporary stuff or do you feel like you fit right into those periods?
Jones: I don’t know. I like doing both. I don’t think you ever want to not take a job because it’s set in a certain time. It’s always about the character and if that appeals. I think it’s quite lucky in England that we do get to bounce between theater and film and TV and the main thing being good stories and good directors really. And it’s good as an actor, because it tests you to move between those mediums.
CS: Some actors say that it adds to the reasons for then being an actor, the whole make-believe aspect of acting where you can be in the ‘60s even if you weren’t alive during that time. Or experience the 18th Century.
Jones: Yeah, you get to be a bit of a time traveller like in “Doctor Who” or something. Do you remember? One of my favorite TV shows… “Quantum Leap”? I used to watch that religiously and that’s almost like being an actor. You jump into someone’s life and then that little guy turns up, what’s his name? Sam? And he’s like “Hi!”
CS: So being an actor is like being in “Quantum Leap.”
CS: Right, that’s the title of the article right there.
Jones: (chuckles delightfully)
CS: You’ve been keeping busy over the last few years, although some of the movies you’ve made, we still haven’t seen “True Story,” which I felt like I talked to Jonah about a few years ago. Is that finished and have you seen it?
Jones: That’s finished and coming out next year, which I’m looking forward to. Yeah, with Jonah Hill and James Franco. We shot that last year.
CS: And that’s a pretty serious drama, although Jonah said that about “Wolf of Wall Street” too and that was hilarious.
Jones: I have to say it is a bit more serious than “The Wolf of Wall Street.” It’s based again on a true story—hence the title!—and it’s about a man (Jonah Hill’s character) who pretends to be a journalist and has murdered his wife and children. It’s about all the characters involved in his trial.
CS: I know you’re also working with Juan Bayonna (“The Orphanage”), so have you started that movie yet?
Jones: I’m doing that now.
CS: And you play a mother in that as well, which is surprising since I consider you so young…
Jones: She’s a very young mother. Single parent, and she had her son when she was very young, which is part of the story. It’s about how she’s dying of cancer and it’s half-animation and it’s about the two of them, the son and the mother, dealing with that relationship. I was interested to explore a different relationship that wasn’t a love between a husband and wife, but it was about mother and son and Bayonna is just incredible. He’s one of the top directors in the world, so I was just like “Yeah, sign me up!” It’s been a privilege to work with him.
CS: Does it have more of the genre elements of “The Orphanage,” a drama but with these darker aspects to it?
Jones: Absolutely. I always say with his movies there’s always a horror element. Oh, yeah, it’s very exciting, and it’s exactly that. It’s not just a naturalistic telling of a story, there’s always another dimension. I watch his “Penny Dreadful” as well. It’s really, really… I recommend it. It’s so worth seeing, it’s excellent.
CS: I’ve been dying to see that but I don’t have Showtime and I’m just waiting for the DVD at this point.
Jones: No, it’s great.
CS: I spoke to Marton Czokas a couple days ago. I don’t know if you two had any scenes together in “The Amazing Spider-Man 2”….
Jones: Oh, we saw each other at the read-through. He’s a great, great actor, but we didn’t have any scenes together.
CS: When I spoke with him, he said he never saw the movie because he shot so much stuff that never made it into the movie, so was that the case with your character, Felicia Hardy, as well?
Jones: There’s always with those films scenes that get cut out. We did shoot more than was in the film, but that always happens. You have to expect that. Whenever you do something, you give it to the director and so much of filmmaking, as you probably know, is made in the edit and that’s when the story comes together.
CS: Especially a movie like that one which can’t be four hours long.
Jones: Exactly, and there’s hours and hours and hours of footage they shoot.
CS: You played a fairly iconic character, at least in name. Do you have any idea what the future’s going to bring with her and the future movies?
Jones: I know as much as you. I love that character in the comics so I would love to play her (again).
CS: Eventually, someone is going to have to say, “Keep these months open to shoot the next movie.”
Jones: Yeah, I’d love to be doing backflips across the studio floor, definitely. Especially after so much crying. (laughs) I’m ready for something a little big different.
The Theory of Everything is now playing in select cities and will expand nationwide on Wednesday, November 26. Check out our earlier interviews with actor Eddie Redmayne and director James Marsh as well.